Taupiri farm gives up its secrets

A farm near Taupiri has had an archaeological team sifting through its soil for the last two weeks in search of Waikato’s past. 

Kumera pits believed to be up to 500 years old have already been uncovered, reports the Waikato Times.

The farm is along the route of the Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway.  Archaeologist Warren Gumbley said the expressway project gave people the chance to explore the lives of pre-European Maori.

A focus of the dig would be collecting soil samples in the hope of finding micro fossil remains of plants such as kumara, tropical yam and taro.

Gumbley said his team would concentrate on three historic garden sites which together covered about 23 hectares.

The gardens were part of a massive horticultural complex which stretched along the Waikato River and was possibly the largest in Polynesia.

“These sites here are examples of a much larger complex – which together probably measures between two and four thousand hectares,” Gumbley said.

An archaeological dig along the designated route of the Cambridge section uncovered an old rubbish dump, wells, kumara pits and fire scoops, koiwi (pre-European human remains) and flakes of obsidian or volcanic glass.

Gumbley said each site gave a unique glimpse into the lives of pre-European Maori.

Garden sites, such as the one unearthed off Waring Road, revealed how Maori adapted to a temperate climate.

Because the pre-European variety of kumara produced only one crop a year, Maori devised methods of storing their harvest in winter. They also used sand and gravel as a mulch base, which forced the kumara tubers to grow shorter and fatter.

Joe Barton, a member of Taupiri Marae, was helping with the dig, and said it gave him an insight into the innovative horticultural techniques of his ancestors.

“I can say it’s not a sexy job but it’s rewarding to see what our old people did,” Barton said.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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